net worth net assets

The Illusion of More

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little. Epicurus

 

A brand new college grad with his mortar board on says to me: Gotta get into grad school!

Comment to me after my 94 year old uncle passed: So sorry he did not make it to 95

Parents remark at their daughter's wedding: Now for my grandkids!

First question in an interview with me: How long do I have to do this job before I might get promoted?

Never enough. Never good enough. 

One of the greatest distractions in life is this uneasy and ultimately sleep depriving feeling. It can motivate and haunt you. It can dominate our thinking and our actions. We see it in our social media, we see it in our credit card statements, we see it at work and talk about it with almost everyone. It is a silent and powerful under current that defines our lives. Wanting MORE. More please

Some believe this constant desire and pursuit for more is rooted in our biology — that it helped us to survive. Some believe that this pursuit is fundamental to a capitalistic society that requires consumerism, propelled by the media, culture and of course, all of us aid and abet the crime of MORE

It is true that our survival instincts and competitive nature have brought us great progress and material luxuries. But when we lose ourselves to the MORE, that requires an intervention.

According to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, income does predict happiness—but only up to $75,000 per year.

The infinite and never satiable goal of a bigger, better, and more expensive version. We do live in a Big Gulp, Super Size, Monster truck, Power Ball,  iPhone 10, All you can eat, Botox filled world that is relentless and unyielding. It is an epidemic.

The yearning for life and wealth shows no signs of aging even as a man grows old. It does not weaken with age. It is a lifelong disease. The man who gives it up finds happiness.  Dharmasutras

I have come to appreciate Marie Kondo's popular and simple advice about Tidying. I have read her book and saw her speak recently. For me the essence is--Look at your things, things you did not remember you have, so many things--Look at each one of them and ask, "Does this spark joy in me?" If it does not, then get rid of it. Give it away to someone who needs or wants it. We should be surrounded by things and people that spark joy in us, right?

A desire arises in the mind. It is satisfied; immediately another comes. In the interval which separates two desires a perfect calm reigns in the mind. It is at this moment freed from all thought, love or hate. Complete peace equally reigns between two mental waves.– SWAMI SIVANANDA

Regardless of what we believe to be at the root of this constant wanting, it takes a conscious and deliberate effort to experience contentment or satisfaction in our lives — to fully appreciate life, people, and the activities we engage in. To stop and smell the roses, as my Dad used to say. To interrupt the impulses and the continuous thoughts that undermine our sense of self and the present.

Yes meditation helps a lot. Anything to disrupt the pattern and bring the world back into focus.

One of my favorite books is Instructions to the Cook describes the Zen Buddhist concept for the supreme meal. The supreme meal is when we live our life fully, wholeheartedly---a fully expressed life.

So the first principle of the Zen cook is that we already have everything we need. If we look closely at our lives, we will find that we have all the ingredients we need to prepare the supreme meal. At every moment, we simply take the ingredients at hand and make the best meal we can. It doesn’t matter how much or how little we have. The Zen cook just looks at what is available and starts with that.

And we become what we say. We evolve into our narratives. So when we say MORE, to ourselves and to others, that's what we believe and that's what we become. 

Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have. Buddha

This is most evident in interviews and conversations. How people always tell me they are looking to make a change because they want more. The most over-used term is "growth" followed by "opportunity". I have learned these are code words for more money. Some souls are looking for meaning and fulfillment, but most want the "opportunity to grow".  Grow to do what or be what?!! We may never know. 

Here's what kills me. Many people have read the same blog posts :), received the same coaching and have the same routines, answers and presentations. And when the vast majority of the walking dead say, "I am looking for a place where I can (continue to) grow." I always ask, "What are your top priorities for personal and professional growth?" This is a stumper. The vast majority of people I meet say that the cause, the issue, even the industry "doesn't matter"!!! I wish I was kidding. They can't articulate what "more" they want. Money is embedded and hiding in these abstract thoughts of more. But what is most often avoided is any self awareness, authenticity, and or introspectiveness to identify what more they want to become.

More is superficial when disconnected from the "P" words of passion and purpose.

How much is enough?

 

The Illusion of More        

Don't need a thing
To do our thing
We have what we need
To pursue what we heed
Everything before us
Nothing between us
The more of our world
Is the distraction
The less of ourselves
Is the attraction
When we forget me
We build on the we

The more takes from the now
It carries us to the next
Without gratitude or grace
It abruptly changes our place
For here is this moment
So full and complete
It's a shame we might waste it
So we can compete
For the more of tomorrow
And miss this special time
Are we deaf to the music
And what's left of this rhyme

No things is our aim
In the end
We are all the same                                           jek

 

There are a few MOREs that deserve our attention:

More peace and social justice

More time with people we love

More solitude, silence, and soul nourishment

More effort to be kind and non-judgmental

More altruism where we give and help without any expectation

More joy, awe, and wonder.

Let's enjoy what we have . Let's find and nurture the spark of joy around us. Let's interrupt the nonsensical wanting impulses. No more. 

Thanks for reading. John

 

 


Give AND Get

We have all been told that it is better to give than to receive. I know as a kid this was never intuitive. We constantly wanted to receive. We had so many needs and wants. As a child, receiving was way better. But as we grew and matured we understood the wisdom in this maxim. You realize that you Get what you Give. That sharing is not an act of generosity but a necessity of the soul. Material things fade in importance and meaning replaces money. We understand that we have much more to give from our wealth, our wisdom, and our work. Guilt can motivate but gratitude sustains our generosity. We learn the intrinsic benefit of giving that redeems us as givers.

When you give, you feel generous, you feel powerful. When you think about others you strengthen yourself. While we may give to get these benefits, we need to always remind ourselves that we have the precious opportunity to give--we get to give.  Give-get1_11-282

For it is in giving that we receive. Francis de Assisi

As a country we are generous. We have been a model of philanthropy and giving of time and money for the world. But when we measure our efforts not as a comparison to other nations but to our own expectations we might come to different conclusions. 

The average US household gives about 4.2% of their income. Most of it goes to church , alma mater and to the hospital, about 67% of all giving. *

Wealthier people give less. Households making over $200,000 a year (top 5% of earners) who live in really nice neighborhoods give 50% less than the average American household. In fact only one zipcode of the top 20 wealthiest zipcodes (where average income approaches $500,000) is in the top 1000 zipcodes of giving %. *

So it is also surprising how little we give. Aren't you surprised? What should we give 5%, 10%, more? 

If we moved the needle to 5% fo all Americans individual giving would increase about $60 billion a year!

Each of us can give more. We can. 

But why do we give? What motivates us? 

In a newish book by Adam Grant, Give or Take, he details the benefits of giving. With decades of research he concludes there are three types of people. 

Givers: They give without expectation and make giving a priority. They look for giving opportunities not just react to them. 

Matchers: They keep track of the score. Who owes whom. They believe in full reciprocity and equity. I scratch your back......

Takers: They always make out  in all transactions even in giving. They are Me first.Only give if they gain.

Of course, few admit they are Takers, but we all know them. I meet gobs of them. They try to be subtle and sly but you spot them a mile away. Their favorite radio station is WII-FM. What's In It For Me! Giving to them is a deal where they reap the profit. Most people think they are Matchers, some are disguised Takers. Matchers see equity in giving. Matchers beleive in equity and that they should always get their fair share. Givers trust others intentions. They believe in giving first and last. Givers are represented at both ends of the barbell. Super successful and failures. People who give generously ascend their worlds or they foolishly give everything away without any self-interest. But givers who are not fools are the most successful.

Grant makes many surprising findings that basically reinforce the idea that unconditional giving to those in need, to a cause greater than themselves, builds a base of support and connects them to new worlds. In other words, it strengthens your network! A network that is diverse and "touches multiple domains and worlds."

Grant asserts that giving always helps the giver most. He describes many studies and cases here. Once the Giver understands the need, meets the people with need, connects with the need, then the Giver benefits more. Givers think of themselves as role models. They think about the consequences of not giving. Givers care. 

So as a fundraiser, I have met all types with every conceivable motivation and angle. In the non-profit world there is usually a "Give or Get" requirement for members of boards of directors. Meaning you have to give or get money for the non-profit with some $ minimum. Even though this is a "requirement" many do not meet it. I prefer Give AND Get--meaning you must give something personally to have "skin" in the game. The amount is what you can afford, but you need to be personally invested. My experience is that few board members meet and exceed these duties. They refuse to give. I have watched hedge fund managers whine like babies. Super wealthy folks give more excuses than a tardy teenager. These are phony givers. They masquerade as givers but do not give. They are Takers who are not truly committed to the cause or the organization they brag about serving. 

Some jaded and cynical people tell me that rich people got rich by being Takers. But as Grant shows in his book, true Givers are the ones who go to the top. 

On the other hand, I have met so many truly generous people who I aspire to be like. To always help. To always give. To always personally invest myself. These giving mentors have shown me the way. Taking is short term, and matching takes a lot of effort to keep track.  I have learned that my capacity to give can grow with practice and exercise. I can and must give more. 

So in life you have to Give AND Get. We all want to be givers. The more you give proactively the more you get. Your giving and the way you give mentors your children and everyone else who looks up you. If you give more without an expectation, without listening to WII-FM, you will receive so much more than you imagined. 

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give. Winston Churchill

Thank you for giving me your attention. And for what you give to others. John

*Chronicle of Philanthropy study of giving 2013


Philanthropy for the 99%

We make ourselves so crazy during the holidays that we forget important things. We get easily caught up in the giving season and forget to give of ourselves--we  forget why we give. Don't get me started on the commercialization of this time of year and how we have been trained to buy our way into and out of the holidays. We all know in our hearts that material things can never repair or advance our relationships. We know that a single time of year of superficial contact will not sustain our network. Yet we fall into this trap, into this mental deception, on a pavlovian annual basis.

Presents will never replace our presence.

Let's be more philanthropic. 

This fancy P word can seem foreign and inappropriate for us who occupy the lower 99%. But let me assert that if you understand its true meaning we all need to adopt it as part of our lifestyle and habits all year long. 

φιλάνθρωπος philanthropos, combined two words: φίλος philos, "loving" in the sense of benefitting, caring for, nourishing; and ἄνθρωπος anthropos, "human being" in the sense of "humanity", or "human-ness". 

When we care about each other, about our fellow human beings--when we love each other--this is philanthropy. 

Giving is not a chore it is a habit. It is not a list of things to buy. It is your readiness and willingness to help others unconditionally. 

It is not a task to unburden our guilt. It is the joy of loving another. Of responding to needs with openness and kindness. 

Here are four quick tips to become more philanthropic:

1.Write a note: One of my greatest peeves is the un-signed holiday card. The mass mailed card that contains nothing human--not even the label is hand written! Yes the photo cards are nicer than a card with a pre-printed name, but wow have we lost our humanity. Writing a note that is personal and thoughtful is a beautiful thing and a lost art.

The thought does count, but you have to act on your thoughts.

2. Give the gift of time: Where you spend your attention and time defines what is important to you. Make a commitment to spend more time with those you care about and love. Don't just say it to yourself, but make a commitment to them. You need this as much as those you care about. Don't regret time lost with others. It will be you who loses. 

3. Give to your passions: Align your financial and volunteer giving with your passions--with the issues that are most important to you. Don't get stuck with giving because you "always" give to them. Or because someone else asked you to. Make your giving reflect who you are and who you care about. You will give more and get more. Your giving will have meaning to you and others.

4. Give more: As a nation we give about 4% of our income to charity. Actually, the middle class is the most generous and gives almost twice the percentage of their incomes as the super rich. However, we all need to give a little more.  We can afford it. There is a growing population at the bottom of our economy that is really hurting and suffering. Pick an issue or cause that resonates with you and give! You can make a difference with any amount of money. Give what you can.

These are the most important investments into your network. Networking your passions and care for others multiplies your impact and your opportunity to make a difference.

Jk and yunusA few weeks ago I had the great honor of meeting Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Laureate, the creator of micro-lending and the founder of the incredibly successful Grameen Bank. He was asked what corporations could do to be more philanthropic--how could their corporate social responsibility be more successful? He said, "If every corporation adopted 50 or 500 families in poverty and helped them, we would end poverty. We need to help each other."

We can easily get caught up in complex campaigns, strategies, and efforts that yield little change. Helping each other, helping people in need--will always make a difference.

Who do we know that needs our help? Who needs our help that we need to know?

We change the world one person at a time. We do.

You have so much more to share and to give to others.

Let's be more philanthropic, in the true sense of the word-- during the holidays and through the next year and the next.

Thank you for all you do for others and what you will do in the future!

Thanks for reading. John 

PS: Interviewed for LA Magazine's website on trends in philanthropy in Los Angeles


Ground Truth and Economic Diversity

Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.  ― Jane Wagner

I have learned the hard way that the further you get from, what a colleague of mine calls "ground truth", the less capable you are to make decisions that are relevant and meaningful. This is pretty intuitive. Yet all of us consciously and unconsciously remove ourselves from the "ground" of our businesses, our neighborhoods and our communities. The consequences present us as individuals and our society with serious challenges. 

And among all of the disconnects from ground truth, money and success can separate us from reality more than anything else. The more money we make and can remove us from the worlds of needs and realities of the people and families "below" us. We tend to reside in a band of commonality that surrounds us with people more like us than not. Again, not driven by conscious choices, but by the centrifugal forces of life. Our economic profile will largely determine where we go to school, where we live, who we meet, who are friends become, and shape the worldview of our kids.  Velvet rope

Michael Sandel  in his book, What Money Can't Buy, discusses how these centrifugal forces are powered. Sandel says, "Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common lifeWhat matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of ordinary life." But what he calls the "skyboxification" of our lives is minimizing if not eliminating the chances people of very different economic means interact. If you can afford it, you don't stand in lines any more or have a special line based on your customer status or premium payment. Fast passes at Disneyland. exclusive floors at hotels, American Express ticket perks...... This is becoming the exception rather than the rule.

I wrote a piece for LA Magazine online a few years ago about the Brentwood Triangle. About the bubbles we live in the protect us from seeing and experiencing the needs in our communities. 

Our ability to govern, to solve problems, meet customer needs, and run successful organizations is increasingly dependent in understanding the totality of our society--from top to bottom. Nearly impossible to do anything relevant from an ivory tower or a Brentwood Triangle.

How Diverse Is Your Network?

Well established that people with more open minds and with networks with more diverse perspectives live longer--up to 9 years! Maybe the most important attribute to diversity is economic. Clearly people with very different net worths and income have different realities. The collision of these realities is where truth emerges.

Ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation and religion can provide different perspectives. However, I believe economic diversity is the most potent and the most insightful of perspectives. Why do universities spend so much money on financial aid? Because they believe that diversity and especially economic diversity is essential for a complete education. Education happens in the hallways and corridors of life. Who you meet, disagree with, compare life experiences with, matters at school and for the rest of our lives.

But we intentionally and unintentionally limit or eliminate diversity. The "best" neighborhoods, schools are rarely  chosen for their economic diversity. Hanging out with, living near people "below" our standard of living is perceived by many as unimportant and to others dangerous. Generally, it is not a priority. 

Therefore you have to make efforts and take conscious steps to stay in touch. You have to build and nurture a diverse network. It rarely just happens. In fact the opposite is more true. We keep and maintain networks even when they are ineffective and unfulfilling. Habits are hard to break. 

Evaluating and constructing your network is neither an "affirmative action" process or akin to the selection of Noah's ark passengers. You gravitate to people through your worlds of contacts and don't reject people who "don't make as much as you." People's economic status in life should not exclude them from your network---People you meet through your kids, at church, at work, on the golf course, and through others. 

I can hear some you getting defensive. I don't doubt your compassion or your intention to be open to meet and embrace others. But take a hard look at your network, your neighbors, your kids' closest friends, and your own close friends. How diverse is it? Economically? How insulated are you from reality? Is it good, good enough? 

I remember when my aunt told me about when she pulled her kids out of an exclusive private school with great academics and little ethnic and economic diversity. Like all middle class parents they made sacrifices to provide the best for their mixed race children. In the sixth grade, my cousins were asked repeatedly about their "stock portfolios." No one in their family had equity investments! But at this school it was part of the casual playground conversation. Then my cousins came home singing, "Ching Chong Chinaman!" They never heard what they thought was a catchy song before and did not know it was directed at them. They left that school and my uncle and aunt got more involved in the selection of the next school choice.

Your network reflects you, where you are and where you are going. Stay grounded to the truth.

Thanks for reading. John


Sideways view of life expectancy

Had the great fortune of interviewing Tom Tierney last week. We discussed his book, Give Smart for the Drucker Business Forum and for the local NPR affiliate, KPCC. His book is really aimed at high net worth donors and would be philanthropists--how to effectively give away your money. As we prepped for the interview I told him this is a basically a career guide for the wealthy people who want to enter the world of philanthropy. He agreed.

Tom's book is a set of questions that apply to anyone who wants to start a "new career". Giving away money just seems easy to most people with wealth. What's there to think about?!! You pick needy organizations that are doing good and you give them money. How can that be hard? Any self respecting "successful" person who has built or grown a business, started a company, invested in start-ups or managed a for-profit enterprise can give away money! Wrong!

There is a prevailing by erroneous point of view that you just apply the most fundamental business practices to non-profit or even government work and you could solve problems so simply. What's wrong with this country is we have not take a business approach to the problems we face. Poverty, cancer, educating our children, and immigration would be solved. Really? C'mon anyone who feels that way, especially business executives, have no idea what they are talking about. I remember when David Gardner, former President of the University of California was discussing the issues of diversity in admissions and said, "Anyone who says they understand the issue does not understand the issue." Classic example of the more we learn the more we understand what we don't know. Tom's questions help people learn about what they don't know about themselves and the opportunity of philanthropy.

One of the most insightful moments for me came at the reception before the interview. We were discussing our concepts of time and what we expect from life in a small group. He took his pen and he looked down the shaft like it was a telescope. He said that we mostly look at our futures this way. He said that we see an infinite line of possibilities, of opportunities, and own deferred thoughts about success. This view gives us the false perception that we have a lot of time. But he said that it is more important to understand the finiteness of life and look at it sideways. He took the pen and looked at it in his hand. The pen's limits now come into view. How long life will be is a guess, but it will be brief. Thinking about the present and finiteness should give us a sense of urgency. Achieving things now instead of waiting for a future time when the "stars will align" or "luck will prevail" or the absolute most fallacious wish, "when I am not as busy". Pen

People think anxiously about the future and forget the present, such that they live  neither in the present or the future.

Two young people heard Tom's message as he was holding the pen sideways and immediately pointed out what they were doing to focus themselves on the present. It was clear they did not fully understand--they hopefully will. Planning their futures is still their career strategy.

While we plan for long lives, we also do many things in anticipation of a shortened one. We buy life insurance. We assign the guardianship of our kids. Nevertheless. we all expect to live at least the average life expectancy. After all, we are all better than the average, so we DESERVE, at least an average length of life, right? 80 years minimum.

But stuff happens. Plans change. Almost all of life does not happen exactly as we wish and thank goodness for that! Can you imagine if life was predictable? No surprises. Just a linear existence. If it were predictable then you would know your date of death and could plan accordingly. Sorry, not in this world.

We should be ready for the end anytime. We should be ready to lose things and loved ones anytime. Because that's when it happens. Did we do what we wanted to do? Did we nurture our relationships? Did we have a full life? Or are we deferring most of our living and loving to a future time when things will be better?

People live as if they will never die and die as if they have never lived.

Once we see the pen sideways and appreciate its finiteness, we can see that everyday, that every moment, that every conversation is important. That the future we envision may not come for you or others.

Life and death are irrational. When your time is up will not be up to you. Yes, eating right, exercising, and taking care of yourself are advised, but no guarantee.

Looking down the road of life or up the staircase of our careers and we can get intoxicated by the what appears to be the infinite dimension of time and opportunity.Stairs

Once you see and understand the finiteness of it all, you will think about giving now. You realize that the one thing you have is your ability to help others. To love. To support. To ease the suffering of others. Deferring those human instincts to a future time that will be more convenient is only reserved for children.

Look at the continuum of life sideways, embrace its boundaries and surrender to the urge to give and live.

Life expectancy: Live every day.

Here's to a long and prosperous life of living and giving, fulfilled in every moment.

Thanks for reading. John


Net Assets, Net Worth, Network!

This economy has brutalized many families and fortunes. The world has been changed and especially whatever plans we had for the future. People who were going to retire- can't. People who felt secure- aren't. And at the lower of end of the economic strata the chances and choices are far worse. I have discussed these issues on these pages many times. Okay, I know any of you paying attention already know this. There is no reset button. There is no return to the good ole days of 2007! J0442414

So why do I hear so many people still talking about their losses, the changes, the altered plans, the anxiety over what could have been? The whole dissection of the spilled milk through your rear view mirror is such a useless and tedious process. You lost money-- the whole world did-- and you probably will not get it back. That time has passed and "the future is not what it used to be" as that famous NY Yankee catcher said. 

People say to me, I am going to wait until my "net worth or my net assets" reach a certain level, then I will explore new things and work I care about. Only then will I get married or take a chance at that new business idea. Not until my little safety net is repaired will I venture out of my cocoon and try my wings. Requiring financial certainty and safety is a fool-proof way of procrastinating.

Look you should be fiscally conscious. Yes, money matters and getting your financial house in order and having  a plan is the prudent thing to do--blah blah blah. But to let that plan and a specific dollar number take precedence over your life's priorities is crazy. 

I admit I did not lose millions or even a fraction of that amount. I never had a plan, much to the chagrin of my children, of leaving a large inheritance. Somewhat by necessity I believe what Andrew Carnegie said, who formalized philanthropy in this country, "dying with money is a disgrace." 

Most of us will never have "enough" money. That amount of money that will make us worry free. But how much do we really need? Like smart businesses we need to downsize/rightsize our financial and material goals. Why don't we free ourselves from the tyranny of the money and focus on making ourselves and the people around us happy? Seems pretty simple and straightforward, doesn't it? 

If you have the need to calculate your current net worth or estimate your future net assets, be sure to assess the most important investments you have--your network. Your family, your friends, your community. How do you value the returns on those holdings? Much harder to bail you out of significant deficits in your network than any monetary debts. Do I need to regale you with anecdotes of wealthy, successful people who are lonely, lacking meaning, and living without purpose? That the one thing that undermines happiness is the regrets over our relationships. Total success has always incorporated strengthening and maintaining those relationships. 

So re-value your portfolios of personal relationships. Look at your 401K and see if your family is okay. Take stock of the market and your circle of friends. Develop a plan to lower your debts and increase your credit within your network. 

Don't make any relationship or opportunity conditioned on your financial net worth. You risk losing things that money can never buy. Your total net worth is composed of all the important things that you value and all of the things you care about. Stop talking about, thinking about, what was and could have been. Start focusing on the future and how you will invest in your network. Your returns will be more gratifying and enduring. 

Thanks for reading. John